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It's Okay to play with your food

Gardening program in Schenectady lets kids get their hands dirty

Getting kids to eat their vegetables can sometimes be a struggle, but a group of children from Schenectady not only liked eating them, but growing them as well.

Schenectady Inner City Ministry's Edible Playgrounds offered children a chance to plant and grow fruit and vegetables at local parks in Schenectady from July 5 to Aug. 20. The three parks were Carrie Street Park, Wallingford Park in Mount Pleasant and Hillhurst Park in Bellevue. The gardening sites also served as locations for SICM's Free Summer Lunch program.

The response has been very positive, said Janet Mattis, community outreach coordinator for SICM. "The kids love it because it gives the kids something to do. The parents like it, too, because the kids get to be taught without knowing they are doing something educational."

The program focused on healthy foods, good eating habits and information about how plants grow. Summer interns helped with the hands-on activities for the 37 registered children.

"I think it is nice for the playgrounds to have some sort of structured activity for the kids to do," said Mattis. "This seemed like a really good way to fight childhood obesity while making the parks safer for the kids to play in."

Edible Playgrounds was based on the Roots and Wisdom program, which focused on gardening throughout parks in Schenectady.

Debbie Forester, facilitator for Edible Playgrounds, is one of the founding members of Roots and Wisdom, which started three summers ago at Orchard Field Park.

"We have kids learning things in a non-traditional way that hopefully enriches their lives," said Forester.

The more positive opportunities there are, said Forester, the fewer chances for negative things to happen. She said it also provides the exercise children need but don't always receive.

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